WILLIAMSTOWN -- With a multiple-year project to build eight units of affordable housing in the former St. Raphael Catholic Church and rectory completed, the Affordable Housing Committee had begun to re-examine its objectives in the summer of 2011.
Then Tropical Storm Irene flood ed The Spruces Mobile Home Park, displacing the retirement community's 273 residents.
A year later, only 66 of the park's 225 homes have been cleared for occupancy by the town. The entire park is in an 100-year floodplain.
"Suddenly we had 155 low-cost homes that were destroyed, and we knew we had to reorganize and revitalize the committee," Catherine Yamamoto, chairwoman of the Affordable Housing Committee, said last week.
Three new members joined the committee, and by December 2011, the committee had applied for $107,500 in Community Preservation Act funds for technical services to determine the viability of local properties to support affordable housing.
In May, Town Meeting not only approved the allocation of the CPA money for technical services, but also passed three other warrant articles that sought to move the development of affordable housing forward. Those articles included the creation of a municipal affordable housing trust fund, using $200,000 in CPA money to fund the trust, and granting $80,000 of CPA funds to Berkshire Housing Development Corp. and Williamstown Elderly Housing Corp. for pre-development work needed for the
Most recently, the Selectmen have appointed five residents to serve on the trust fund's board of trustees.
Yamamoto said the need for affordable housing before Tropical Storm Irene was documented by the waiting list for subsidized housing in Williamstown.
"While The Spruces wasn't government subsidized housing, it was low-cost housing. People who lost their homes there had to go somewhere, and there was already not enough low-cost housing before Irene," she said.
Selectman Thomas Sheldon, who was chairman of the board during Tropical Storm Irene, said the next year or two will determine how the town fairs in its whole response to the aftermath of the storm, especially regarding the affordable housing component.
"One can get really positive about all the good efforts that have been taking place over the past year, but until we have good, tangible results, the score card is incomplete," he said.
Yamamoto said the Afford able Housing Committee is currently looking at two sites that have the potential for affordable housing, but both need some level of environmental cleanup. The properties, which are both owned by the town, are the old town garage site at 59 Water St. and the Photech property at 330 Cole Ave.
"Our next steps are to make sure the cleanup at 59 Water St. and Photech proceeds, and to determine the full extent of the cleanup and its cost. Our other immediate next step is to hire a consultant to work with us on analyzing those sites for housing, and the financial feasibility of what can be built there," she said.
Running parallel to the Affordable Housing Commit tee's efforts are those of Higher Ground, a local nonprofit form ed following Tropical Storm Irene to help residents displaced by the flooding. The long-term recovery group was charged with continuing the work of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Clergy, which began the day after the storm hit. The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Clergy's base of operations during that time period was the First Congregational Church on Main Street.
Currently, Higher Ground is looking into disaster-replacement housing exclusively for residents of The Spruces who lost their homes in the flood. The organization has already received a $20,000 predevelopment grant to look at potential sites, including property owned by Williams College off Stetson Road.
"We started a housing fund, and we are soon going to start fundraising efforts for that," Robin Lenz, coordinator for Higher Ground, said last week.
Even though it has been a year since Tropical Storm Irene, there are an estimated 50 former residents of The Spruces who are still in temporary housing situations, she said.
"That can be living with family or friends, in a motel or in an apartment they can't afford. We're talking about people whose incomes are $900 a month," she said.